Mirage by Somaiya Daud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was dubious about this book at first--it's very much a first novel, with the associate telling instead of showing, at least in the beginning. The SFF element is pretty lightweight and a bit derivative. The author mentions "phasers" and "blasters," making me wonder if she was cribbing from Star Trek, Star Wars or both, and she treats space travel with all the seriousness of hopping in the car to drive down the block. But this was forgivable in the end, at least for me, because it wasn't the point. The weight of this story is in the lush setting, the fully-realized cultures, and the characterizations, with a tragic romance at its center.
Whether you like this story will depend a lot on how you feel about that central romance, but it is a good one (even if it is a bit insta-lovey, for those who don't like that trope). The author also delves into the evils of colonization, with the story being told from the point of view of the conquered. By necessity, there's a lot of court politics here, and rebellions and spies, including our protagonist, Amani. She has been kidnapped to serve as the body double of Princess Maram, the hated daughter of the conquerer, and because of this she is dragged into a frothing stew of scheming and manipulation as she struggles to survive.
The author does a fairly successful job of humanizing the spoiled, nasty Princess Maram, revealing her to be a sad, lonely girl caught between her Vathek father and Andalaan mother, reviled as a half-breed. This book is shot through with the grief of the conquered, and the determination not to let their culture and way of life fade away. The first-novel syndrome is the reason I'm not rating this higher, but I certainly hope the author works through those kinks. Once she is more in command of her craft, I think this will be an excellent story.
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